A GREAT WORK
Mr G. Rose
February 10th 1959
Zion Chapel, Tonbridge.*
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. I Peter 5, 2-4.
These words are like a mirror wherein the work, labour and spirit of a true servant of God are set forth, and we believe it was true of dear Mr. Prickett. It was so for the many years that I was acquainted with him. We had fellowship in the things of God and nothing occurred to mar that fellowship but to strengthen it. We desire to thank God for every remembrance of him as a servant of God, as a child of God, and surely we may say in his case, “The memory of the just is blessed.”
As the Lord may help me I would try to speak of the work. “Feed the flock of God which is among you.” I will try to notice the work as it should be carried out; and then notice the things that should be absent from the work. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” There you have the negative and the positive. We will then notice the blessed, glorious consummation. “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
The work of the ministry is laid on a man; he does not take it upon himself. He does not go; he is sent. That makes all the difference. In that exercise there is always, in a greater or lesser measure, a realization of the solemnity of the work, of one’s unfitness for it in one’s self, one’s inability for it. It makes one say, “Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send,” but not by me. If the Lord lays this weight upon a person’s mind nothing can take it away because that is the Lord’s work. He will also give you to see the many things in connection with it, especially the need of faith. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4, 2). The awful responsibility of it is laid on the mind, not to fear the face of man but to fear God. When Hugh Latimer preached before Henry VIII he offended the king with the plainness of his testimony, so he was ordered again to preach before the king.
Before he began he had this little personal word. “Hugh Latimer, now you have to preach before the most high and mighty king Henry, who has it in his power to take away your life if you offend him. But remember, Hugh Latimer, you stand before God, who has power not only to kill the body but has power to cast the soul into hell. Remember that, Hugh Latimer, and fear God.” He then preached more powerfully and more plainly, if possible, and many trembled for his life. However, the king took him aside and said, “I thank God if I have one man in my kingdom who is not afraid to tell me the truth as it is before God.”
“Feed the flock of God.” The ministry is the means of feeding God’s people. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Cor. 1, 21). They are to be fed with what the shepherd himself lives upon, as we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,…. which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;…. that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (I John 1, 1, 3).
There is this too Â— they are to feed them, not entertain them, not merely please them; they are to be fed with food convenient for them. The Spirit of God, as He uses the ministry, provides milk for babes, strong meat “to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5, 14) Ministers have to realise that the flock does not belong to them. they are to be in charge but it is Christ’s flock. He is the guide. He lives for them and He is the one that is to be pointed out to them.
When I went to Croydon I had this word, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” (Exodus 2, 9). Do not nurse it for yourself; nurse it for Me. Do not depend on them, depend on Me: I will give thee thy wages. Nothing should be more unselfish than feeding the flock of God. That means you must attend to them. Look well not only to the number but to the state of the flock.
The food has to be provided and only the Spirit can give you that. One night I said to the Lord, “Lord, what shall I say?” “Say to them that are of a fearful heart. Be strong, fear not.” (Isa. 35,4). That was the message.
“Feed the flock of God”, and the substance of preaching is this: Christ Himself. “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God.” (I Cor. 1, 23-24).
A man said to me once, “George, I will give you Â£8 a week if you will come and work for me.” I said, “No Tom. I work for souls, not for gold, I work for wages I cannot spend.” When a minister can see his ministry blessed and the Lord applies the word to the souls of his hearers, there is compensation. It is not pounds, shillings and pence; that is not the main consideration. If I may so speak that is a detail Â— a necessary detail but it is only a detail. Who can tell the value of an immortal soul. Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8, 36-37).
I cannot help referring to myself here because as we ourselves prove things so we can speak. I was tried for two or three years with this: I could not prove that I had been sent to preach because I did not know of anyone that had been quickened into life through my ministry. It was a trial to me. Two friends asked me to their home. I said I could not promise until after tea the next Saturday. When I went the wife related her experience to me and how she had been quickened into life. I said, “Can you put your finger on the time and the circumstances?” “Yes I can. It was soon after you came here, one week night. I only went to chapel because my husband wanted me to, but this night every word that you said was like a sword to me. It showed me my state before a heart searching and rein trying God.” Then she told me where she was raised up to a hope and where she was brought into liberty. I was very glad to hear it but did not seem to realize it. The next morning (it was in the summer) when I woke up I thought, that is just what I have been waiting to hear. It was only four o’clock. I went into Swift’s Park and there for three hours I walked about. I blessed and praised God till I was so weak with the excess of joy I was hardly fit to preach. I always look on that person as my firstborn.
“Feed the flock of God.” It is not only in the quickening;
it is in the nourishing. The Spirit of God will lead them. I believe He led our dear friend. He led him into the truth experimentally. God’s Spirit never teaches theory. It is what you yourself experience; it is grace. It is pure. You must know what suits the flock. How do you know what suits them? What suits yourself will suit them. Let the Lord make His word spirit and life to you and let Him do the same to someone else who listens and you will have fellowship one with another and that will beget love to the instrument, as Paul said, “… esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” (I Thess. 5, 13). I feel that was so when the widow’s son was raised and she said, “I know that thou art a man of God and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” Maybe there are those here tonight who can say of their late pastor’s ministry as the Apostle says, we “received it not as the word of man but as… the word of God,” not “in
word only but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” I have heard people sayÂ—not about meÂ— “If what that man says is true I shall go to heaven” and I believe it is true. That is when it feeds the soul. You can eat with them but not for them. It must be each for himself. You may relish the same kind of food but it must be personal and private. The Lord must apply the word and where there is appetite for the truth, that is life. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for thy shall be filled.” (Matt. 5, 6). Now my dear friends if none but Christ will do for you, you will go to heaven. You desire the Spirit’s witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
“Assure my conscience of her part
In the Redeemer’s blood;
And bear thy witness with my heart,
That I am born of God.”
It is not eloquence which feeds us; that only entertains us. Application feeds us. Anything that comes with power will feed you, as the poet says,
“A crumb of mercy. Lord, I crave,
Unworthy to be fed
With dainties such as angels have,
Or with the children’s bread.”
Nothing else but that will do. It is Christ in the soul, in His work of redemption, in His righteousness and His intercession at the right hand of the Father. Give me to know that He is mine and that is bread to me. Jesus said, “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever,” and “I will raise him up at the last day.” If you can feel that Christ has died for you from the Spirit’s witness with your spirit, that is the bread of life. The life that feeds the Lord’s people comes from His death. You feed upon His broken body and shed blood. “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man ye have no life in you.” Now I must try to go further.
“Taking the oversight thereof willingly.” I often felt that about your late Pastor. He never had a large congregation, neither at Dartford nor here, but I believe that every journey he took in the Lord’s service he took willingly, not grudgingly. He looked to the welfare of those committed to his charge, even though it was not a large congregation. WillinglyÂ—you see the Lord looks at our spirits and He knows whether we go willingly or not.
I remember many years ago at Cranbrook I was going away on a long journey and my natural mind began to work. I thought, I am like a wandering Jew, cannot be with my own family hardly at all. Before I got to the station this word came:
“Zion, thrice happy place.
Adorned with wondrous grace
My soul shall ever love thee well.”
Then I could leave my wife and children behind willingly.
“Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move.”
Love is the crowning grace, the permanent grace. It is the greatest gift God could give.
“Of all that God bestows,
In earth or heaven above,
The best gift saint or angel knows,
Or e’er will know, is love.”
Love while it burns does not consume; it strengthens. Humility is health to the soul, love is strength, and when our souls are filled with humility and love we are spiritually healthy. Well might Mr. Hart say,
“Lord, if with thee part I bear;
If I through thy word am clean;
In thy mercy if I share;
If thy blood has purged my sin;
To my needy soul impart
Thy good Spirit from above,
To enrich my barren heart
With humility and love,
“Not by constraint.” You see constraint drives; love draws. You do not do it because you must but because you wish to do it and you do it out of love to Christ and His people. I believe that when a minister feels rightly he feels his unworthiness, his inability. But let the Lord be with him in the ministry and it is
easy work. Take His easy yoke and wear it, not because you must but because you are willing to spend and be spent. Spend yourself for the sake of others, out of love. When Whitefield came to the end he said, “Lord, I am weary in Thy work but I am not weary of it.”
“Not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre.” I believe that was true of our dear friend; it was not the remuneration; what he wanted was the souls of the people. He wanted their hearts, not their pockets. In that sense I believe he was most unselfish. He did not do it for position; he did not want to stand first; he wanted Christ to be first. There is only one
right authority in the ministry, in the church of God, and that is the authority of unction. A minister left to himself gets into his own spirit. He can be very severe and he looks upon that as being faithful, but Toplady says,
“Though justly of wrongs we complain,
Or faithfully sinners reprove,
Yet still we do all things in vain,
Unless we do all things in love.”
The ministry is not to exalt one’s self; it is to exalt Christ.
“Neither as being lords over God’s heritage.” We do not want a natural authority; we want a gracious authority. That is the only thing that will work right. If the truth is received and you feel it is the truth of God, that will be an authority. You may try to impress and force your own view upon those that hear you so that they think much of you, but it does not work like that. The Lord Jesus Christ set that beautiful example. He girded Himself with a towel, took a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and He said, “Ye call me Master and Lord:
and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13, 13-14). It is not for others to wash my feet but for me to be willing to wash other’s feet.
“But being ensamples.” Christ is the perfect example but His servants and people are not perfect examples. No minister would say in his right mind, “I am a perfect example to my people. If they copy me in everything I say or do they will never go wrong.” He would not say it. You can say that only of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has left us an example that we might follow His steps. (I Peter 2, 21). It is a blessed thing to be able to follow His steps as we have grace to do so. The poet says,
“Give me the wings of faith to rise
Within the veil, and see
The saints above, how great their joys,
How bright their glories be.
They marked the footsteps that he trod,
(His zeal inspired their breast);
And following their incarnate God,
Possess the promised rest.”
Here is the perfect example in two words, “Follow me.” You will never go wrong in following Christ in any way whatever, in spirit, word or in deed. Follow Him, and you can only do this as you have His spirit. Having His grace you follow Him. When you are near Him and looking to Him you are safe.
I want to come to this for a few minutes, the blessed consummation. The servant of God comes to his reward, the reward of grace. “When the chief Shepherd shall appear.” After all, the under shepherd has not died for the sheep. They are not his property. They are his charge. It is required of stewards that they be found faithful, and a steward is one put in charge, in a responsible position, to carry out the wishes and instructions of his employer.
The Chief Shepherd has a reward given Him, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12, 2.) He has a reward and He is worthy of it. We are not worthy to be rewarded but the Lord’s faithful servants I believe are rewarded. If the Lord favours them with souls for their hire and seals to their ministry that is ample compensation.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive…” They do not take; they receive it; it is bestowed upon them. “Well done good and faithful servant.” What words are hereÂ—to be accounted worthy to be put into the ministry, and to be able to say at its conclusion what the Apostle said, knowing that he would be beheaded with a Roman swordÂ—he says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall, give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim 4, 7-8.)
How different are spiritual things from earthly things. One rich man said “I could be happy if it were not for this dying.”
O to be kept faithful, desiring to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and to be able to say as I believe our dear friend could, “I kept back nothing that was profitable for you.” It is good to know that souls are blessed through one’s ministry but it is not what the ministry is; it is what the Lord makes of it. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Cor. 1, 21). The king said (I believe it was to Dr. Owen) he was surprised that he should go and hear a tinker preach (Bunyan). He said, “Your majesty, if I had the tinker’s grace I could part with all my learning.” So it is. At the end of it we have to say, “Not unto us but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and thy truth’s sake.”
I believe the place where the Lord’s servants labour is dear to them; this place was to your late Pastor. He could say with Rutherford,
“Fair Anwoth by the Solway,
Thou still to me art dear.
E’en from the verge of heaven
I drop for thee a tear.
O if one soul from Anwoth
Meet me at God’s right hand,
My heaven will be two heavens
In Emmanuel’s land.”
It may be that even from this place there will be those that will be our dear friend’s crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord.
Though the Lord buries the workman He carries on His work. May He do it here and His name be glorified.
* This sermon was preached following the death of the pastor, Mr. F. J. Prickett.